Home Blog How April’s Ethnicity in Rise of the TMNT Promotes Diversity

How April’s Ethnicity in Rise of the TMNT Promotes Diversity

by Justin W
April's ethnicity hasn't always been the same. Even on this early cover art for issue #11 of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, she is depicted as anything but a redhead. Image Source: Mirage Comics, IDW.

After the most recent announcements about Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I couldn’t help but notice that a lot of fans got hung up on April’s ethnicity. Not only will she be played by a black actress, but reports indicate that she will also apparently be a black character in the cartoon. To the credit of my fellow shellheads, most of the people who were focused on this detail were actually pleased to see it. That being said, it seems that this subject has created a bit of controversy, and I wanted to address the topic of ethnicity and change in the TMNT universe.

First of all, I have to say that it was a little disconcerting to see so much focus on the ethnicity of a cartoon character. Although most people were simply surprised to see it, others were questioning why they would even bother changing this detail. Ultimately, one’s ethnicity does not define what they are and are not capable of doing, so there’s no reason to be confused about this alteration of the character.

When it comes to the surprise of seeing April O’Neil change, it’s much easier to understand why fans would be shocked. After all, we’re talking about a character that has traditionally been white in the cartoons and movies since 1987. However, it’s worth noting that April wasn’t always a redhead, and she actually at least appeared to have a different ethnicity in the comic books. In other words, this wouldn’t be the first time that her character has been altered for a different iteration of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

April's cartoon character has gone from helpless victim to powerful kunoichi. Girl power at its finest! Image Source: Nickelodeon.

April’s cartoon character has gone from helpless victim to powerful kunoichi. Girl power at its finest! Image Source: Nickelodeon.

Speaking of change, can we please show some appreciation for what Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did for April O’Neil? Instead of being a friend who frequently got into trouble and needed their help, Nick’s TMNT actually made April a Kunoichi (female ninja) with incredible powers of her own. This may not have been the first time that she was turned into a fairly powerful member of the team, but it was certainly nice to see her take on a stronger role in the latest Ninja Turtles cartoon.

When we look at the overall history of this character, it is a history filled with transformation. Not only has her ethnicity changed, but her purpose in the group has also been either downplayed or improved depending on how the creators chose to write her into the story. If there’s one thing we can say about April O’Neil, it is that she is more than capable of change. I mean, we’re talking about the first human being to give the turtles a chance, right?

April is all about accepting change and seeking justice. Not only do I welcome this change of ethnicity, I’m also excited to see what comes of Kat Graham‘s interpretation of the character. If Nickelodeon’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made her an important and powerful member of the group, perhaps Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles can go the extra mile and promote even more diversity in the TMNT universe.

Kat Graham (on the left) will be the first black voice actor to play April O'Neil. According to some sources, April O'Neil herself will also be black. Image Source: Nickelodeon.

Kat Graham (on the left) will be the first black voice actress to play April O’Neil. According to some sources, April O’Neil herself will also be black. Image Source: Nickelodeon.

So, how do I feel about April O’Neil’s change in ethnicity? I’m excited, I’m hopeful, and I’m proud to be a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. That’s how I feel, and that’s probably how we should all feel. Oh, and extra kudos to Nickelodeon for hiring a more diverse group of voice actors for this cartoon. I’m still not sure how to feel about Raphael being the leader, but this is one change that I definitely support.

What do you think? Are you happy to see April’s ethnicity change? Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Share your thoughts either in the comments below or on Facebook/Twitter. Please refrain from any racially insensitive discussions – we reserve the right to remove any inappropriate comments.

You may also like


disqus_TiFHwui96K November 9, 2017 - 11:34 pm

I’m cool with it 🙂

cyndie November 10, 2017 - 4:43 pm

I like it!

….I do not, however, care for the Leonardo and Raphael role reversal. 🙁

BirdLady12 November 12, 2017 - 4:50 pm

I’m taking a wait-and-see approach regarding Raph as the leader. However, I’m concerned by Leo’s description. I’m not necessarily opposed to him being more laid-back (the 90s movie Leo is one of my favorite incarnations of this character, and he certainly had a playful side). I just hope he is still recognizable as Leo (even 90s movie Leo still had a strong spiritual side). Unless, they’re planning some major character development throughout the series.

William Kerfoot November 25, 2017 - 6:25 am

Have you forgotten that Ralph was considered the leader in the 1990 movie?

Andrea Stinson November 11, 2017 - 12:24 am

James Avery played Shredder in the original 80s show. He was my favorite Shredder. Also, Kevin Richardson played Shredder in the recent incarnation. Don’t forget to mention that!

Andre Christopher Feurtado November 16, 2017 - 5:16 pm

Mr. Kevin Michael Richardson did an awesome job replicating Mr. James LaRue Avery

BirdLady12 November 25, 2017 - 4:28 pm

Kevin Michael Richardon was an absolutely amazing Shredder; possibly my favorite.

Elisa November 11, 2017 - 9:49 am

Her ethnicity has little relevance to her character so it really changes nothing about April, except that we have more diversity in the show which is a great thing. I’m actually hoping for some Latino characters *cough* Angel *cough*… 😁

NUMBER ONE TMNT FAN November 12, 2017 - 3:12 pm


BirdLady12 November 12, 2017 - 3:16 pm

Doesn’t bother me. She wasn’t originally white in the Mirage comics, like you said. I’m more concerned about her characterization and the voice actress’ performance. I like what they did with her in the Nick cartoon, with her character development and kick-ass abilities (glad the MA arc in which she was fridged is non-canon 😀 )

William Kerfoot November 25, 2017 - 6:29 am

There’s nothing in MA to confirm it’s non cannon. Besides, her S4 arc sucked beyond belief—and other than that she was average as a character.

BirdLady12 November 25, 2017 - 1:13 pm

Oh, yes there is. If you haven’t realized that already, then you need to re-watch Turtles in Time (Season 3). Mutant Apocalypse is inherently non-canon, since humanity and civilization itself have been wiped out and the world is now a post-apocalyptic wasteland. This directly contradicts Renet’s description of the Turtles’ true canon future.
Also, if you look on Nick’s official TMNT twitter, they actually have said that it is non-canon. Since they own TMNT, it’s official. The arc is non-canon, whether Ciro Nieli likes it or not 🙂
As for April…I obviously disagree, but to each their own. As an adult, I respect that not everybody is going to agree with me. Wish more fans could do the same 🙂 Also, like it or not, she was an important character, and had basically become a part of the Hamato family. Fridging her in the Mutant Apocalypse arc, despite the fact that it is non-canon, has unfortunate implications.

William Kerfoot November 25, 2017 - 4:04 pm

I’ll give you some leeway on Renet’s claims since, unless something happened to her, she can find the turtles and help them rewrite everything (except maybe their physical forms). However, it makes you wonder why they didn’t have the Halloween arc be the episodes where they become “legends”—it might give the arc a reason for existing. Since the intention of MA though wasn’t about trying to fix history though, you may have to either consider that nothing is written in stone (Earth’s Last Stand’s a decent example) or just write off Renet’s claims as a continuity error—just like when they changed the identity of TC’s rival in “The Tale of Tiger Claw*”.

As for Nickelodeon, why should I listen to either them or some guy who runs their page? I don’t need someone like that telling me what to think when I’ve got the episode spelling it all out for me! Besides, it’s very likely become in their best interest to claim non-cannon after the controversy the fans have made so that the legacy of their series will not only be collectively better off, but that the same fans will also come back to watch RotTMNT next fall. The fans like me who liked MA will obviously come back regardless so it apparently makes all the sense in the world to start claiming non-cannon. All this is why I can’t listen to all these non-cannon theories and hopefully more will follow suit.

William Kerfoot November 25, 2017 - 4:53 pm

I’ll give you some leeway with Renet’s claims since, unless something happened to her, she could find the turtles and help them rewrite history. It makes you wonder though, why they didn’t make the Halloween arc the adventure that made them “legends”—at least it’d give the Halloween arc a reason to exist. Since the intention of MA itself wasn’t about rewriting history though, you may either have to accept the fact that nothing is written in stone (“Earth’s Last Stand” being a decent example) or take Renet’s claims as a continuity error—like when they changed the identity of TC’s rival in “The Tale of Tiger Claw*”

Aside from that, why should I listen to Nickelodeon or some random guy who runs their page? Especially when I’ve got the episode itself spelling it all out for me? Besides, in the wake of the controversy us fans have started, it’s perhaps in their best interest to claim non-cannon despite the lack of proof in MA itself so that they’ll not only make those who didn’t like MA show back up next fall to watch RotTMNT next fall but also (perhaps) keep the legacy that their series has built intact. Meanwhile, the fans such as myself who liked MA, will be back to watch RotTMNT regardless. Nick claiming non-cannon is simply damage control, and I’ve still yet to hear any fan point out to me something in MA that proves it’s non-cannon; so I can’t listen to any of these non-cannon theories.

BirdLady12 November 25, 2017 - 5:29 pm

Oh, I don’t need any leeway 😉 It is a massive canon contradiction. Not merely a plot hole, but a plot abyss into which the story collapses and falls screaming to its inevitable doom.
Re-writing history? Now, a Days of Futures Past type thing might have been cool. But, that would still mean that this future no longer existed. Meaning, it’s still ultimately not the true future 🙂 A moot point, anyway, since the arc is non-canon.
You seriously need to watch Turtles in Time and Tale of the Yokai again. Tale of the Yokai actually did show that certain things are written in stone. If not for Renet, the Turtles would not have saved Hamato Yoshi in Japan. Meaning no TMNT. Renet would not have sought out the Turtles in the first place if they weren’t heroes of legend and if she did not come from a civilization capable of time travel. The future Renet describes is not a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It is a very advanced civilization capable of time travel (she specifically mentions the 25th century). As for Earth’s Last Stand, that proves that the Earth was not ultimately meant to be destroyed (which we already would have figured out due to Renet’s description of the future).
Why would Renet’s claims be a continuity error, and not Mutant Apocalypse? Renet’s description of the future preceded Mutant Apocalypse. Like I stated above, the canon timeline would not be possible without her intervention.

William Kerfoot November 25, 2017 - 6:09 pm

Like I said, point out something in MA itself that proves the episode happened in an AU or something like that. Until then, you’ve got nothing.

BirdLady12 November 25, 2017 - 6:25 pm

No problem –>> The fact that the world is a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Which massively contradicts descriptions of the turtles’ true future. There you go.
Just for fun, what proof do YOU have that it’s canon? None whatsoever, I presume. Since it’s not canon 🙂

William Kerfoot November 25, 2017 - 6:40 pm

Are you seriously that retarded? You want me to prove that something’s canon? If you want me to prove it’s canon, I’m going to have to do the same thing for just about every episode of every TV show, every movie that every studio has ever produced, etc. etc. The burden of proof as far as canonocity is concerned falls on the side arguing non-canonocity–meaning that burden is on you. Even more so when there’s nothing in that episode to prove it’s not cannon. And you can’t prove it! MA is canon, it’s fact instead of opinion, it always will be, and you’d better get used to it!

BirdLady12 November 25, 2017 - 7:07 pm

Oooh….now he’s throwing insults. Guess that means I win the debate 🙂
I was merely illustrating the foolishness of your question; I seem to have succeeded spectacularly, and hit quite a nerve in the process, it seems 😉 It is completely nonsensical to attempt to ignore the rest of the entire series when determining canonicity. In answer to my question, you could have easily provided a quote in which Nickelodeon, the owner of TMNT, says the arc is canon, but…..oh, wait. That’s because they don’t. In fact, they say the exact opposite. No wonder you got so upset 🙂
I and other fans have already explained how it’s non-canon multiple times. It has indeed been proven. You are just angry because you are unable to think of any good counterarguments. So, you are ignoring the facts given to you not only by me but other fans. And deep down, you probably realize that the arc is a polished turd, which makes you angry. And that anger is misdirected at fans who were able to figure that out before you.
Mutant Apocalypse is not canon. In fact, it contradicts canon so badly, that it is impossible for it to fit the canon timeline. You can throw all of the tantrums you want. It will not change the facts.
Oh, and I don’t have to do what you tell me to. Especially when it makes no sense whatsoever. It’s 2017, sweetie, and we women are able to think for ourselves.
By the way….did you seriously “like” one of your own comments?

William Kerfoot November 25, 2017 - 8:01 pm

Took you long enough to come up with no answers. Ho hum.

BirdLady12 November 25, 2017 - 9:29 pm

Thank you for proving my point. You are still unable to provide any sensible counterarguments, and instead choose to throw a temper tantrum. That strongly suggests that you know we are right, but don’t want to admit it. In that case, I graciously accept your concession of defeat 🙂
I will continue to rejoice in the fact that Mutant Apocalypse is not canon. The series deserves so much more than a polished turd as the ending. Owari and the Kavaxas arc make a very nice ending to the main CANON storyline, and the Crossover was a fun finale for Tales of the TMNT.

William Kerfoot November 25, 2017 - 9:53 pm

Thank you for being living proof that ignorance is bliss. BTW, I’m still waiting for that moment in the episode that tells all that it’s AU. In case that was all too complicated for you to understand: you still lose. :p

BirdLady12 November 25, 2017 - 11:35 pm

Ignorance is bliss? Ah, you mean the way you ignore the fact that the arc massively contradicts canon? And pretend not to notice or understand when people very patiently explain it to you? Much is now made clear.
Once again, I graciously accept your concession of defeat. And I am still glad that Mutant Apocalypse is non-canon. Not complicated at all. I hope you someday mature to the point where you are able to accept the fact that you don’t get to control what others think. Nobody is required to blindly accept things that you like 🙂

William Kerfoot November 26, 2017 - 10:50 am

There’s nothing in MA that indicates it’s non cannon. You’re lack of answers are your admittance. You’ve been defeated. Get used to it. Case closed!

BirdLady12 November 26, 2017 - 12:45 pm

Oh, yes there is. The entire premise of the arc is non-canon, with the world as a post-apocalyptic wasteland; which contradicts previously established canon. Also the Mutagen bomb, which comes out of nowhere, despite the Kraang’s defeat/destruction. I’ve explained this is in my previous answers. And I’ve seen other people explain it to you on other sites. There is your answer, once again. If you are still confused, I would suggest watching Turtles in Time and Tale of the Yokai. It’s quite clear that you have not yet done so. We have given you the proof time and time again, but you are unable to provide any sensible counterarguments and have to resort to tantrums and insults. Which suggests that you realize you have lost the debate, and you are misdirecting your anger at us. You can enjoy the arc, but you still don’t get to decide how other people view it.
Plus, Nickelodeon, which owns TMNT, has declared the arc to be non-canon, in a rare good decision on their part.
Thus, the arc is still non-canon, whether you like it or not. Case closed indeed. I will continue to think for myself. You should try it some time.

BirdLady12 November 25, 2017 - 5:30 pm

Why listen to Nickelodeon?
….because Nickelodeon owns the TMNT. As the owners, they get to decide what is officially canon. That said, I still choose to think for myself. Why should I listen to Ciro Nieli, when the guy clearly stated that he just didn’t want people messing with this version of the Turtles after the show ended, and choosing to ignore previously established canon? No thank you. I choose to think for myself. But, I still appreciate Nick rightfully declaring the arc non-canon.
I have seen other fans have explain to you why the arc does not fit into canon. Indeed the episode itself “spells it out”. You simply choose to ignore it 🙂 If you like the arc, that’s your business. If you choose to ignore the canon contradictions, severely OOC behavior, and fridging of the female characters, that’s your business. But, you don’t get to tell people they have to accept it as canon when it makes absolutely no sense in the canon timeline.

William Kerfoot November 25, 2017 - 6:27 am

I thought Raph and Mikey being the first two turtles to be portrayed by African Americans would’ve been a bigger headline.

William Kerfoot November 25, 2017 - 9:58 am

BTW, I think I got a cavity after reading this. Too much sugar coating going on here.

Ben Kenneth January 20, 2018 - 8:49 pm

I’m not digging the Change in April’s ethnicity. It’s a little bit racist. Just make a black character for the show that’s a tmnt friend, don’t racebend. She was originally white, her odd looks and curly hair were a clmbination of the fashions in the 80s and the fact that eastman and laird both admit they are not good at drawing women.

shark February 6, 2018 - 3:35 pm

I agree with this. Angel and Nobody were black, just give them bigger roles. Hell, Nobody was a black Batman for that matter.

Comments are closed.